Thursday, August 4, 2011

Interview with Tansy Curtin

Tansy Curtin is one of the curators at the Bendigo Art Gallery, & I got to speak to her about the newest exhibition The White Wedding Dress: 200 Years of Wedding Fashions.

^ Photograph courtesy of the Bendigo Art Gallery; Wedding dress designed by Vera Wang for her spring 2007 bridal collection. Tissue organza and satin faced organza. Worn by Katie Bella Turner for her marriage to Andrew Robert Hayward on 26 August 2007 in Setauket, U.S.A. Lent by the American Friends of the V&A

How were the dresses shipped and transported to the gallery?
The dresses are all transported already dressed on their mannequins. They are specially packed in individual crates. Each dress is wrapped in a parachute silk protective cover with padding (as necessary for beading and other fragile details) and then an outer tyvek cover is placed over the top. The dresses were shipped by sea.

What is it like curating a fabric and textile exhibition that is fairly large in scale? It is obviously different to say works on paper or oil paintings.
It can be quite challenging to bring together an exhibition of large-scale textiles as they have incredibly different requirements from works on paper or paintings. The Gallery employed an exhibition designer to develop the design and layout for the cabinets and exhibition elements.

How do you determine where things are positioned, does it take a long time?
For the White Wedding Dress the curator, Edwina Ehrman from the V&A, determined the layout of the exhibition – the layout is generally chronological and follows the history of wedding fashions. We also worked closely with the exhibition designers to work out logical movement for patrons through the exhibition. We had most of the layout predetermined before the exhibition began to be installed in Bendigo, with just a few small changes once the curator arrived. For the Australian exhibition the Director, Karen Quinlan and I worked on not only chronology but also making the large open plinths interesting and dynamic (there are many more dresses in a smaller space in this section). Because of the diverse range of dresses this was extremely challenging and took a number of weeks to complete.

When setting the dresses up, did stories pop into mind about what the history of the dress was like e.g. who wore it? What the wedding was like?We work closely with a Melbourne-based publicist for the publicity for our key exhibitions and together we worked on developing stories for different media. Our publicist is very good at finding stories and tailoring them to specific publications.

Did you enjoy curating this exhibit? And what have been some of your favorite moments, dresses or jobs throughout have you enjoyed to make this exhibition become a reality?I have very much enjoyed working on both exhibitions – as project manager for the white wedding dress and curator of the Australian aesthetic. Obviously I have been working on these exhibitions for a number of years and I think the highlight would have to be finally opening the first crate to reveal these magnificent gowns – there is only so much you can see in a photograph, the delicacy and detail of these gowns and other objects is absolutely extraordinary. As a handicraft-type person it is also inspiring to see some of the incredible skills these dressmakers and lace makers had and it certainly makes me think about learning how to embroider!

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